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They depaved a parking lot and put up a paradise

Volunteers remove asphalt from Yeager's parking lot to build rain garden

Volunteers work to tear up a section of asphalt to install a rain garden with the goal of improving water quality in Squalicum Creek on Saturday, June 25, at Yeager's Sporting Goods in Bellingham. The rain garden project is being organized by the
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Volunteers work to tear up a section of asphalt to install a rain garden with the goal of improving water quality in Squalicum Creek on Saturday, June 25, at Yeager's Sporting Goods in Bellingham. The rain garden project is being organized by the

A small piece of the parking lot at Yeager’s Sporting Goods is being turned into a rain garden to keep more than 70,000 gallons of polluted stormwater from washing into nearby Squalicum Creek each year.

Volunteers helped with the project at 3101 Northwest Ave. on Saturday, June 25, by ripping out asphalt that covered 1 1/2 to two parking spaces, about 340 square feet, in the Bellingham store’s back parking lot.

The soil beneath will be amended so it can nourish the plants that will be put in there and filter stormwater before it enters the creek, functioning like a forest would.

“It will slow down the surface runoff and allow the water to infiltrate into the soil,” said Aneka Sweeney, education and outreach coordinator for Whatcom Conservation District, of the $6,000 project paid with grant money.

Stormwater is rain and melted snow that runs off hard surfaces – rooftops, paved streets, highways, parking lots – and into local waterways instead of soaking into the ground. It carries pollutants such as motor oil, fertilizers, chemicals and pet waste into the water, which is why officials have said stormwater is the leading contributor of pollution in urban waterways in Washington state.

A recent study found that stormwater that runs off urban roads is deadly to salmon.

We hope this project will not only be an immediate benefit to the creek but send a message to neighboring businesses that they can make a difference.

Aneka Sweeney, Whatcom Conservation District

Hardy and native flowering plants, shrubs and grasses that are OK with wet and dry conditions will be planted in the space in the fall, when they will require less attention.

John “Westy” Westerfield, store manager for Yeager’s, said he grew up a short bike ride from the store and fished Squalicum Creek many times while growing up.

“The quintessential symbol of the Northwest is the anadromous fish, salmon and steelhead,” he said, adding that residents should do anything they can to help the iconic fish survive. “The area here has a special place in my heart. When we had this opportunity, we couldn’t pass it up.”

And while the size of the rain garden is small, Sweeney said of the engineered biological system that “its impact can be huge because it’s been designed that way.”

A sign also is going up to explain the functions of a rain garden to the customers of the business, which has long contributed to conservation efforts.

The rain garden also could show nearby businesses what can be done to help water quality.

“We hope this project will not only be an immediate benefit to the creek but send a message to neighboring businesses that they can make a difference,” Sweeney said.

Money for the project came from The Nature Conservancy and Boeing, and is being done in partnership with the city of Bellingham.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Help with water quality

Businesses and residents who want to learn what they can do to help improve water quality may contact Aneka Sweeney, education and outreach coordinator for Whatcom Conservation District, at 360-526-2381.

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